Daily life is often hard to put into words, life’s everyday roller coaster can throw so much at us we often don’t have the time to sit down and feel each day. Shodo artist Mika Aoki’s three-year calendar provides us with just that opportunity and much more. Showing 366 separate kanji for each day of the year, including the leap year of 2020, it provides the opportunity for each of us to grab hold of feeling through the power of words, while at the same time providing a doorway to the culture of one of Fukuoka’s ex-mining towns – Tagawa.
Aoki-san and myself at the Fukuoka Now offices
The Tagawa born Aoki’s original idea was to create a gift which utilized kanji. Having been creating postcards and framed pieces of calligraphy as part of her profession, she saw that her hand-painted beautiful designs had a profound effect on her customers. What separates kanji from other forms of art is that is an audience-driven spiritual experience. For those that don’t know, kanji often have many of different readings, which are separated into ‘onyomi’ (the Chinese reading of the character) and ‘kunyomi’ (the Japanese reading of the character). With these different readings comes a number of different meanings which help people visualize and hold onto the feelings for that day, for each of the 366 kanji in the calendar are all positive, the point being so that so we could look to the coming days with a welling anticipation and happiness.
The day I interviewed Aoki-san (Nov. 28) was the kanji for sagacity or wisdom (英), while I couldn’t possibly comment on myself the kanji is also the first character of the English language in Japanese, or ‘eigo’ (英語). As a native Englishman myself I was surprised at this coincidence, but with infectious enthusiasm, I was told that this was fairly commonplace. People would turn surprised to Aoki-san and say ‘ehhh, that’s the kanji for today, what are the chances, this happened to me just this morning!’, at that moment each new day becomes a surprise as the page is turned and a beautifully painted kanji captures your life for the day. However don’t feel restricted by the date because this three-year calendar gives you the freedom to peek ahead a couple of days ahead if you can’t wait!
The beautiful calendar on display
Something else which speaks to this possible gift’s uniqueness is its connection to the ex-mining town of Tagawa in our very own Fukuoka Prefecture. While no longer active Tagawa has a proud history of coal mining, and in the Meiji period (1868-1912) was one of the principal sites of coal production in Japan. It’s now home to the Tagawa City Coal Mining Historical Museum, which displays a number of exhibits on coal mining and the lives of those in the pits, as well as a general history of the area. The reason I elaborate so much is that this calendar gives each person who buys it an insight into the city’s culture. Adorning the reusable pages are symbols of the city, ranging from the tall chimneys which characterize its cityscape near Tagawa-Ita Station, to regional dialects and sayings which accompany each kanji. The calendar itself is a joint project between Aoki and the city of Tagawa itself, the city raising funds for its production. The reason for all of this is to communicate a clear and optimistic message for the future, one which prominently features on the cover art of the box, that this gift is ‘From the city of black diamonds to the world,’ and there is just so much it can show it.
While functioning as an educational tool for any foreigners brave enough to attempt kanji (to say that this author has been ‘stuck’ for a number of years in an overstatement), this calendar is much more. It’s entertainment that two friends can use, sitting at a coffee table, flicking through the days after Christmas, anticipating which day is next to see if the kanji pictured will fit into their lives. It’s economically designed and environmentally friendly record of the feelings of three years, the perfect accompaniment to a box of memories somewhere down the line. It’s a message from a town with a culture that cries out to the world from the bottom of a pit doused in history.
The ‘Day by Day Calendar with Japanese Spirit Kanji’ is on sale now for ¥3,300, and can be ordered from your local bookstore by asking for “每日いい漢学・破日めくリ366 for 2020” (mainichi ii kanji・yaburanai hi mekuri 366 for 2020) from the production company “共同ポケット” (Giyoudou Pocket). The calendar can also be found on Amazon and Rakuten, and if you are planning on ordering more than five, you can order them directly from the production company and receive delivery as a courtesy. Write your name, email address and a message on the website listed below to be taken through the steps, don’t miss the chance for the perfect Christmas gift!
The perfect gift this Christmas!
Size: 21cm x 15cm
Color: Two-color (black and blue)
Text by Kenji Newton for Fukuoka Now